Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: How to set your fantasy lineups for Week 4
With the calendar flipping to October and Week 4 of the NFL season on the way, it’s time for our weekly stroll across the league, looking at all the start and sit possibilities for every fantasy-relevant player in this weekend's 15 matchups. Remember, the conditional start players' place in your individual lineup will depend on your specific roster and league parameters. Use those rules and this guide in conjunction with our weekly sortable position rankings to build your best possible lineup.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Must start: Chris Ivory (quad), Lamar Miller (ankle), Brandon Marshall, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Cameron, Jets DST, Dolphins DST
Ivory was active last week but didn’t play a down, and the Jets' offense suffered. The fact that he was made active, however, augurs well for this week. The Jets have been a nightmare for opposing backs, but the Dolphins have to figure out a way to get the run game going. As disappointing as Lamar Miller has been this year, I believe he will ultimately be fine. He’s a strong buy-low candidate, even if he struggles against the Jets. Marshall is up to 33 targets on the season, and the Jets have thrown the ball 59% of the time. He’ll likely draw Brent Grimes on Sunday. Landry has also turned into a matchup-proof player, racking up 35 targets, including seven in the red zone, in Miami’s first three games.
Conditional start: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Tannehill, Eric Decker (knee), Rishard Matthews
Tannehill is just outside the QB1 class for this week, making him a strong QB2. Having said that, the Jets have allowed the third-fewest points to quarterbacks, and Landry is likely facing a day filled with Darrelle Revis. It’s still early, but it doesn’t sound great for Decker, and with the Jets traveling to London and then enjoying a bye in Week 5, they may simply decide to keep him behind in New York and let him get ready for Week 6 against the Redskins. If he’s out, it’s hard to think of Fitzpatrick as anything more than a low-end QB2. As for Matthews, he’s going to see a lot of Antonio Cromartie, he played fewer snaps last week than DeVante Parker, and he did all of his damage in garbage time. He’s a WR3, at best.
Sit: Bilal Powell, Damien Williams, Chris Owusu, DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings
Keep an eye on Parker’s snap count this week. It has increased from one to 17 to 42 in Miami’s first three games. He’s clearly taking on a significant role in this offense.
Oakland Raiders at Chicago Bears
Must start: Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Matt Forte, Amari Cooper, Martellus Bennett
This Raiders offense graduated from stay-away territory last week, and it did so largely because of the efforts of Carr, Murray and Cooper. I was down on Cooper heading into the season because of the offense, and even after Week 1, but I have to admit that I was wrong. Derek Carr is not holding him back at all. In fact, he and Carr are thriving together. Both Cooper and Murray have reached matchup-proof status, though it helps that the Bears present one of the best matchups in the league. As for Forte, his days in Chicago could be numbered, and if he’s on your team, you have to hope that the Bears do something we see so rarely in football: trade a big-name player during the season. The Raiders have allowed the most points to tight ends this year, letting every starter at the position they’ve faced score at least one touchdown. Bennett should have a nice day, even with Jimmy Clausen under center.
Conditional start: Michael Crabtree, Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), Raiders DST
The Bears have allowed the sixth-most points to receivers this season, but they’ve mostly been burned by very good quarterbacks and receivers. As bad as they are, there’s no shame in allowing seven touchdown passes combined to Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer. Crabtree has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence this year, but he’s still no more than a WR3 in this matchup. Jeffery is likely to get back on the field after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. You’re starting him if he’s out there, but he’s just a low-end WR2 with Clausen at the helm. Clausen, however, is responsible for making the Raiders a streamable defense this week.
Sit: Jimmy Clausen, Eddie Royal, Mychal Rivera, Bears DST
Even if Jeffery can’t go, Royal wouldn’t be worth starting in anything but the deepest of formats. Jay Cutler will have to be back under center before fantasy owners can think about deploying Royal.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Must start: Andrew Luck (shoulder), T.J. Yeldon, Frank Gore, Allen Robinson, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief
All attention for the rest of the week will be on Luck’s shoulder after he was limited in Wednesday’s practice. It doesn’t appear to be too concerning just yet, but he took a beating in the win over the Titans last week. Assuming he’s good to go for Sunday, this should be a great matchup for the entire Colts passing game. If he’s operating at less than 100%, Gore could take further advantage of a defense that has allowed the seventh-most points to running backs. Robinson is going to have a tough assignment with Vontae Davis, making him no more than a low-end WR2, and potentially just a flex play in standard leagues. Still, volume should be his friend. Yeldon has been held back by the offensive struggles in Jacksonville, but he still grades out as a low-end RB2 in this matchup. No one is taking carries away from him in that backfield.
Conditional start: Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen (ankle)
Percy Harvin, Eric Decker and Kendall Wright, the top receivers who have faced the Colts this year and skirted a matchup with Vontae Davis, have combined for 20 catches, 271 yards and three touchdowns, with the low man on the totem pole (Harvin) scoring 13.9 points in standard-scoring leagues. Hurns is worth a look in deeper formats. Bortles isn’t on the one-QB radar, but he is a decent play in two-quarterback formats. Allen is expected to return this week after missing last week’s win. If he plays, he’s a borderline TE1/TE2. Same goes for Fleener if Allen is out again.
Sit: Marqise Lee, Andre Johnson, Phillip Dorsett, Clay Harbor, Jaguars DST, Colts DST
Johnson has seven catches for 51 yards. The only reason he wouldn’t be on your bench is that you already dropped him.
New York Giants at Buffalo Bills
Must start: Eli Manning, Tyrod Taylor, Karlos Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Bills DST
These two teams only get together once every four years, but any potential matchup between the two in the last eight wouldn’t have screamed shootout. That could be different this season. Both teams have capable quarterbacks in Manning and Taylor, and the Giants’ defense hasn’t exactly been shutting opponents down this season. Manning and Taylor are both at the end of the QB1 spectrum. Williams will get the start in place of LeSean McCoy, and it will be very interesting to see what he can do with an increased workload. He’s still going to cede goal-line carries to Boobie Dixon, but he could have the ball in his hands 20 times this week.
It would be nice to see the Giants look Beckham’s way deep down the field more often this week, but his owners should feel great about the fact that the Bills have allowed the third-most points to receivers, though it must be mentioned that part of that was Tom Brady being Tom Brady, and another part of it was Ryan Tannehill racking up points in garbage time. It would also be nice to see Beckham get more than 28% of his team’s red-zone targets.
Conditional start: Rashad Jennings, Rueben Randle, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay
Harvin is as close to being a must-start play as possible without actually being one. Sammy Watkins is likely to miss this game because of a calf strain, and that could open the door to Harvin being a viable WR2. He got eight targets last week, and was clearly Taylor’s favored receiver once Watkins was out. Watkins’ absence would also be great for Clay, who’s a low-end TE1. We’ve all had Randle pull the rug out from under us in the past, so don’t get too excited about his 116-yard, one-touchdown game last week. He’s still no better than a low-end WR3. As for Jennings, I’d have to be desperate to play him. He has no explosion and is no longer getting enough touches to turn in a strong fantasy game by volume alone.
Sit: Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, LeSean McCoy (hamstring), Victor Cruz (calf), Sammy Watkins (calf), Larry Donnell, Giants DST
Cruz is close to returning, but all signs point to him missing one more game. Watkins, too, is likely to be sidelined by a calf injury.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Must start: Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST
Newton has had a couple big games in a row, running for scores in each of the last two weeks and throwing for four touchdowns against one interception. Remember, though, that he wasn’t exactly efficient through the air against Houston two weeks ago. Tampa Bay doesn’t present as tough a matchup, but Newton’s passing is still far from a sure thing. If Stewart can’t get things cooking against a Buccaneers defense that has allowed the fourth-most points to running backs this year, he’ll find himself among the Week 4 sliders. Evans caught seven passes for 101 yards in his first fully healthy game of the season. He’s back to being a rock-solid WR1. That’s bad news overall for Jackson, but this pair doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves for being one of the most productive in the league. Since a bizarre Week 1 in which only three passes were thrown Olsen’s way, he’s had 25 targets in the last two weeks.
Conditional start: Jameis Winston, Doug Martin
Winston is not yet on the QB1 radar, but this isn’t a terrible spot to get him active in two-QB leagues. Any time you have a pair of weapons like Evans and Jackson, you can finish as one of the top-20 quarterbacks in a given week. The Panthers, however, have allowed the seventh-fewest points to quarterbacks. Martin once again convinced a wide swath of the fantasy community that he really would bounce back this year. He’s no more than a deep flex play.
Sit: Charles Sims, Corey Brown, Ted Ginn, Devin Funchess, Buccaneers DST
Keep an eye on Sims, who played a season high 49.2% of the Buccaneers’ snaps last week. One more ineffective game from Martin could lead to an increased role for the backup.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
Must start: Sam Bradford, Ryan Mathews, Matt Jones, Jordan Matthews, Jordan Reed
Last week was a step in the right direction for the Philadelphia offense, but it will have its hands full against a Washington defense that has been quietly effective this season. It has allowed the eighth-fewest points to quarterbacks and second fewest to running backs, so this is not a slam dunk for Bradford or Mathews. Jones was a bit of a disappointment last week, but he outcarried Alfred Morris for the second-straight game and got more snaps than him for the first time. It seems we have a new leader in Washington’s backfield. Matthews hasn’t had fewer than eight targets in a game, and Washington’s starting corners, Chris Culliver and Bashaud Breeland, have allowed 14 receptions and two touchdowns on 20 targets.
Conditional start: Kirk Cousins, DeMarco Murray (hamstring), Nelson Agholor, Pierre Garcon, Eagles DST, Redskins DST
The Eagles force teams to run a lot of plays and throw the ball a ton. That’s a good enough formula to make Cousins a worthy starter in two-QB leagues this week and pushes the disappointing Garcon to high-end WR3 and flex status. We should learn more about Murray as the week progresses, but right now his owners should plan on not having him for the second straight week. If I owned him, I’d actually be hoping he sits another week. We’re seeing with LeSean McCoy what happens when a running back tries to play through a hamstring injury. After playing a bit less than 80% of Philadelphia’s snaps in the first two weeks, Agholor’s snap percentage rose to 93.2% in Week 3. He won’t be asleep much longer.
Sit: Darren Sproles, Alfred Morris, Chris Thompson, DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Zach Ertz
Sproles totaled 36 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches last week. I don’t really care if the opportunity is there. I’m not reaching that far into my bag to start a player like that against a defense that has been tough on running backs. If he burns me, so be it. I don’t think he will. As for Morris, he has 78 yards on 24 carries the last two weeks. You should be done with him. It seems Washington is.
Houston Texans at Atlanta Falcons
Must start: Matt Ryan, Alfred Blue, Devonta Freeman, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones
The Falcons’ offense has been a joy to watch this season, and that should keep on rolling against the Texans this week. This could be a bad defense outside of J.J. Watt. The Texans have allowed the fourth-most points to quarterbacks, with the most troubling entry on the ledger coming in Week 1 when they let Alex Smith throw for 243 yards and three touchdowns. That could spell trouble with a connection as hot as Ryan-to-Jones on the other side. Freeman should have at least one more week alone in the backfield, making him a strong RB2 this week. Blue, meanwhile, is coming off a monster game and draws a Falcons defense that has surrendered 581 total yards and seven touchdowns to running backs this season.
Conditional start: Texans DST
Watt is enough, on his own, to keep this defense operating on a conditional-start floor. He can will his way to a few sacks and perhaps create a turnover, but the ceiling on this defense isn’t what it was at the start of the season.
Sit: Ryan Mallett, Arian Foster (groin), Chris Polk, Tevin Coleman (ribs), Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington, Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson, Garrett Graham, Jacob Tamme (concussion), Falcons DST
Few beat writers are as close to the teams they cover as the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain is to the Texans. When he says that he believes Foster won’t play until he goes through a full week of practice, we should believe him. Foster has been limited all week. Don’t bet on him making his season debut on Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals
Must start: Andy Dalton, Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Maclin, A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Travis Kelce, Tyler Eifert
Welcome to the most exciting game of Week 4. This game features the current No. 3 fantasy quarterback (Dalton), No. 1 running back (Charles), No. 4 receiver (Green), and Nos. 2 and 4 tight ends (Kelce, Eifert). Meanwhile, Hill has RB1 ability, Bernard is the No. 15 running back, and Maclin and Jones are both inside the top 25 at receiver. The over/under on this game sits at 44.5, but I think we can safely bet on it sailing beyond that number. Cincinnati’s offense looks like one of the best in the league through three games, and the Chiefs will be forced, perhaps against their will, to attack downfield more than they have so far if they want to keep up. Everyone listed above, even the disappointing Hill, is an easy start this week.
Conditional start: Alex Smith
As poorly as Smith has played the last few weeks, he’s still a low-end QB2 for those of you in two-QB leagues. The weapons around him make him a worthy starter in such formats, but we need to see more deep passing from him right away.
Sit: Chiefs DST, Bengals DST
I don’t want any part of the defenses in this game. Chances are, not a whole lot will be played, even with the Chiefs getting Sean Smith back.
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals
Must start: Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Rams DST, Cardinals DST
As good as the Cardinals are in real life, this game is about the polar opposite from the one above when it comes to pure fantasy excitement. You can make a case for a handful of other players to be started, but only Palmer, Fitzgerald, and the defenses must be started in this game. The Rams have allowed the second-fewest points to quarterbacks and third fewest to receivers, but both Palmer and Fitzgerald are matchup-proof at this point. Understand, though, that they may come down from the heights of the last two weeks.
Conditional start: Chris Johnson, John Brown
Johnson has had 42 carries in the last two games, and his detractors have to admit that he ran the ball well last week. Bruce Arians has already said that Johnson will be a 15- to 20-touch back, even when Andre Ellington returns. He’s a low-end RB2 this week, even if Ellington is out, but this Rams defense has been susceptible to the run this year. Remember, Matt Jones's big game came against this team at home. We’ve seen three consecutive underwhelming games from Brown, and now he gets the best secondary that he’s faced to date this year. He’s no more than a WR3 or low-end flex play for me.
Sit: The Rams, Andre Ellington (knee), David Johnson, Michael Floyd
Todd Gurley could get more work this week, but we need to see something from a Rams running back before trusting him as a starter. Short of that, you’re betting on pixie dust.
Cleveland Browns at San Diego Chargers
Must start: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Steve Johnson
It’s a Chargers-only party in the must-start section for this game between 1–2 teams. The Browns have allowed the third-most points to running backs this season. Gordon has significantly outsnapped and out-touched Danny Woodhead in each of the last two weeks. This will be the breakout game of his rookie year. Rivers, Allen and Johnson are all worth starting against a Cleveland defense that has allowed 8.06 yards per attempt and six passing touchdowns this season. Joe Haden could also be out after suffering a rib injury against the Raiders last week. Derek Carr tore this defense apart in Week 3, and that was in Cleveland. Rivers and company should do the same on Sunday.
Conditional start: Isaiah Crowell, Danny Woodhead, Chargers DST
I love the matchup for Crowell. The Chargers have allowed the second-most points to running backs, letting running backs get north of 100 yards for two weeks in a row (Giovani Bernard and Adrian Peterson). I worry, though, that this game could get out of hand, forcing the Browns to eschew the run. In a similar situation last week, Duke Johnson played more snaps than Crowell. This is a timeshare in which Crowell is better off when the Browns are playing with a lead. That’s unlikely to happen on Sunday, which is why he’s a flex or high-end RB3. Woodhead is going to get his 12 touches, like he does every week. I know he can do damage with them, but the only way I’m betting on that outcome is if I’m forced to because of byes, injuries or both.
Sit: Josh McCown, Duke Johnson, Travis Benjamin, Brian Hartline, Taylor Gabriel, Andrew Hawkins, Malcom Floyd, Gary Barnidge, Ladarius Green (concussion), Browns DST
The worst thing about McCown’s huge game last week is that it likely convinced the Cleveland brain trust that it did the right thing in pushing aside Johnny Manziel and handing the reins back to the veteran. Even Browns fans can likely agree, since it came in a losing effort. Please give us our Manziel, Mike Pettine.
Minnesota Vikings at Denver Broncos
Must start: Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos DST
Much has been made about Manning’s decreased effectiveness on deep balls and willingness to throw them. True, he’s just 2 of 10 on passes that have traveled at least 20 yards in the air. Guess what, though? We saw Manning and Gary Kubiak compromise last week, with the Broncos running their offense largely out of the pistol formation. Manning went 31 of 42 for 324 yards and two touchdowns. Everything still comes out accurately, it just doesn’t have as much zip. As long as he’s comfortable, he’s still a star fantasy quarterback. Minnesota’s formula for winning this game is to ride Peterson all day and count on the defense to make a few big plays. Don’t be surprised if Peterson gets 25-plus carries.
Conditional start: C.J. Anderson
It’s remarkable how far Anderson has fallen in so short a time, but it’s hard to trust him as more than a flex play at this point. He’s dealt with nagging injuries, underperformance, and the presence of Ronnie Hillman through the team’s first three games, and it’s possible Kubiak prefers Hillman’s style in this offense. He’s far from dead, but Anderson may be a season-long disappointment.
Sit: Teddy Bridgewater, Ronnie Hillman, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, Owen Daniels, Vikings DST
Peterson is better off with Bridgewater under center. Bridgewater is better off in shotgun. It’s little surprise who’s winning this tug of war. Bridgewater is no more than a QB2 on a good day, and this could be a very bad day going up against a Denver defense that has allowed, by far, the fewest points to quarterbacks. They’ve surrendered just 23 points to the position in standard-scoring leagues. The Rams, who have given up the second-fewest points to QBs, have allowed 36.3. Stay away from this entire passing game.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy (ankle), Carlos Hyde, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Packers DST
The 49ers are allowing a touch more than 10 YPA this season and the fourth-most points to receivers per game. Rodgers, meanwhile, is getting 8.47 YPA and has 10 touchdowns against zero interceptions. In other words, this one could get ugly. With Davante Adams likely out a few weeks with his ankle injury, Jones is a rock-solid WR2 for the foreseeable future. If the 49ers manage to keep this game close, Hyde could be in for his first good fantasy performance since Week 1. We know this Green Bay defense can be run on, and it has had trouble with Colin Kaepernick in the past. Despite the ankle injury, Lacy got 10 carries and three receptions last week. He’s safe to deploy as usual this week.
Conditional start: Colin Kaepernick, Anquan Boldin
It’s no secret that Kaepernick has given Dom Capers fits when he has met the Packers. In two starts against Capers’ defense, Kaepernick has thrown for 412 yards, 10.56 YPA, and three touchdowns against zero picks. As terrible as Kaepernick was last week, he was coming off a monster fantasy performance against the Steelers the week before. He’s still a solid QB2 this week. As Kaepernick goes, so goes Boldin. He’s no more than a WR3, but that makes him a potential starter in a lot of fantasy formats.
Sit: James Starks, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, Torrey Smith, Richard Rodgers, Vernon Davis, 49ers DST
Montgomery is a nice player to have in case Cobb or Jones gets injured, but we’ve seen enough from the Rodgers era Packers to know that this is a two-receiver offense, at least in terms of fantasy-relevant production.
Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
Must start: Joseph Randle, Mark Ingram, Jason Witten
NBC probably didn’t think this game would feature Brandon Weeden and Luke McCown when they tabbed it for Sunday Night Football during the offseason. As such, there’s going to be a whole lot more running in this game than Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth thought they were getting a few weeks ago. Randle starred in the first half against the Falcons last week, then mysteriously disappeared. Don’t expect that to happen again on Sunday night. The Cowboys need to feed him the ball 20 times to keep the offense rolling. The same could be true of Ingram, but they should get C.J. Spiller involved more now that Sean Payton is making it a priority. Get ready for a whole lot of Randle and Lance Dunbar on one side, against Ingram and Spiller on the other.
Conditional start: Lance Dunbar, C.J. Spiller, Brandin Cooks, Cowboys DST
Dunbar and Spiller are both options in full PPR leagues, or deeper leagues if you typically start someone like Dion Lewis. Both should be heavily featured in their respective passing games this week, especially with quarterbacks who struggle to make plays down the field. Still, their value is almost entirely tied up in receptions. If you’re not in a full PPR league, chances are you can do better than either Dunbar or Spiller. As for Cooks, his dink-and-dunk game doesn’t play well in the fantasy world. He’s no more than a WR3.
Sit: Brandon Weeden, Luke McCown, Darren McFadden, Khiry Robinson, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brandon Coleman, Marques Colston, Ben Watson, Saints DST
This is what happens in a game with two backup quarterbacks. Not only are they unworthy of fantasy attention, but they torpedo the fantasy value of any fringe players, as well.
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks
Must start: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch (hamstring), Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham, Eric Ebron, Seahawks DST
Wilson and Lynch have fallen short of expectations this year, but a date with the Lions could be just what they needed. The Lions have allowed the 11th-most points to quarterbacks and ninth-most to running backs. Of course, Lynch is dealing with a hamstring injury that largely kept him out of last week’s win over the Bears. The main issue here is that this is the Monday night game. Lynch owners may not be able to risk playing him, unless they were able to secure Thomas Rawls’s services on the waiver wire this week. Even if they were and Rawls starts, it’s hard to view him as anything more than a fringe RB2.
The good news for this offense is that Graham finally got involved last week. That shouldn’t change on Monday night. On the other side, Johnson is getting plenty of targets, but he’s not getting any looks down the field. Matthew Stafford clearly isn’t right, as evidenced by the fact that he has attempted just four passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air this year. Combine that with the brutal matchup, and it could be another underwhelming week for Johnson. That could also make him an ideal buy-low candidate next week.
Conditional start: Ameer Abdullah, Thomas Rawls, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin
Rawls is startable under two conditions. The first is that Lynch doesn’t play, and the second is that you’re a Lynch owner who wanted to start whoever’s in the backfield for the Seahawks. That’s it. Tate is suffering under the same restrictions as Johnson, but he doesn’t have Johnson’s cachet, or his red-zone ability. Abdullah’s role is too spotty, and this is an awful matchup for a running back. If Joique Bell just went away, Abdullah may get enough volume to play with confidence in this matchup. As it stands, he’s a flex at best. The receivers in Seattle’s offense are so fungible that it’s impossible to count on any one of them as a regular starter. Still, this is a decent matchup, and Baldwin is the most likely to be involved. He’s a fringe WR3.
Sit: Matthew Stafford (ribs), Joique Bell, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, Lions DST
Until Stafford proves that everything with him is sound, from his ribs to his chest to his elbow, he cannot be started in anything but two-QB leagues, and even there his owner would have to be short on options at his second quarterback slot. The rest should be self-explanatory